Handling the Perfectionist

The accurate, systematic fact finder. Evasive, precise and conservative. These are the testers, accountants, engineers of the business world. Without them, business would fail due to non-compliance. They do things by the book, they are meticulous and attentive to detail, and absolutely must have procedures to back up their work. Their biggest fear is making a mistake, so they need proof and evidence which, for most of us is frustrating and slows down the business world. However, they actually save us time in the long run.


The perfectionist is 14% of the business world – almost 1 in 7! In a technical environment this can be even higher.


The perfectionist can easily be spotted in the group. They are introverted, task oriented, critical and to the point. Their conflict response is avoidance and they are the best car drivers you will find! Their office has charts and graphs, and is highly functional. Everything is perfectly organised! They are the Spok from Star Trek, and gravitate towards technical roles where conservatism and accuracy are relished. Unfortunately, like all behavioural styles, perfectionists have their strengths and weakness:






High standards

Clarifies and tests

Task oriented


High attention to detail


Possible weaknesses


Hesitant to act without precedent

Over analyse (Analysis paralysis!)

Get bogged down with detail

Internalise feelings

Defensive when criticised

Yield their position to avoid controversy

Select people like themselves

Be too hard on themselves

Tell instead of sell ideas


The perfectionist always has a plan B and escape plan which means they never fully commit. “I hope to have it read by the end of the day if John gives me this duty…so long as he gives me this before the end of the day…and so long as the computer doesn’t crash and the planets align…I am trying my best but I can’t guarantee…”. The perfectionist brings a sense of reality to the team; they will blow holes in a plan when it’s not well thought out. This acts as a vital strength.


The perfectionist needs an environment where critical thinking is needed and wanted. They don’t like noise or people around them so don’t distract them once on a task! Their environment must support a need for quality and of a technical or task nature. Perfectionists tend to form friendships with only a small group of friends.


They seek operating procedures in writing. There must be safety policies formalised and managers who follow these rigorously. Most importantly, perfectionists need time to think and also demand reassurances that the job is being done correctly. Give them objective, tough problems to solve.


Communicating with a perfectionist is easy if you are one yourself. If not here are a few tips:

  • Prepare your case well in advance and don’t be disorganised or messy.
  • Approach them in a straightforward and direct manner. Don’t dare be casual or personal and especially don’t touch them!
  • Use a thoughtful approach, don’t be forceful or demand a quick decision from a perfectionist. Instead, build credibility by looking at both sides of the issue.
  • Don’t be vague about the expectation or fail to follow through. Present the specifics and do what you say you can do.
  • Have an action plan without milestones.
  • Take your time but be persistent.
  • If you disagree prove it with data, facts and testimonials from respected people. Do not present to opinion or feelings as evidence.


Managing a perfectionist can be extremely rewarding but along the way can be extremely frustrating. So, to smooth over possible ridges involve them in defining and implementing standards. Clearly define the requirements of the job and your expectations. Allow them to finish tasks started and set activities that have some ‘reach’ or ‘stretch’ that will challenge them.


Do no criticise their work unless you can prove a better way. Encourage their contribution in meetings, train them in people skills and teach them to negotiate. Above all, respect their personal nature.


The perfectionist is suspicious of new products and sales people. They are usually not talkative and will not change suppliers easily. They are not innovators hence if you are suggesting something new you need to show lots of proof of actual results. This can take the form of testimonials or research information. The perfectionist hates being rushed – they need time to look at all the facts so get right into the point with plenty of facts and figures, ready to answer every question. The best selling technique for the perfectionist is ‘try before you buy’ and ‘put down a deposit’.


Best of luck. Remember, there is no right or wrong behavioural style – it all comes down to what the job requires demands. People can adapt their styles in the short term but in the long term, significant changes lead to stress, staff turnover and frustrated bosses!


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